Learning to draw? The library is probably your first stop if you’re on a budget. But the internet has its own answer with public domain resources such as Project Gutenberg, OpenLibrary.org, Google Books and Archive.org, you have a collection of free drawing books at your fingertips. You can view these online or download it to your Kindle or eReader of your choice.
The Practice and Science of Drawing
The Practice and Science Of Drawing by Harold Speed. This book originally published in 1913 takes an expected classical approach to drawing that holds up amazingly well today. Although the techniques are classical, you can benefit from the discussion presented no matter what style you ain for. This is the kind of title that reminds us the power of a well-consolidated book as opposed to the quick-fix approach of internet tutorials. (As valuable as those are.) It’s filled with beautiful sketches to study and serves as both a starting point and a reference book.
Pen Drawing, An Illustrated Treatise by Charles Maginnis. Pen and ink drawing continues to astound and amaze the average artist. This bible on the subject would be of interest to the modern comic book inker. The author here has you create a light pencil outline to plan your composition and then you create amazing detail straight to ink. Various styles are discussed and dissected. For the price, it’s worth checking out and playing with the techniques.
The Elements of Drawing
The Elements of Drawing by John Ruskin. Hailing from the 19th century, this book is written in the poetic language of the time. It’s a practical guide that mentors the beginner or advanced artist in how to improve their skills. It lacks in step-by-step illustrations but instead tells you how to discover and view the world with your own eyes. This book is also available for free from Google Books.
Blackboard Drawing by Frederick Whitney This one takes on a different subject, blackboard and chalk drawing. And thankfully it’s filled with images to illustrate the unique look of this type of art.
Constructive Anatomy by George B. Bridgman. Learning to draw the human figure? This book tells you how with over 500 illustrations showing you exactly how to build a figure. This is a must read for the serious portrait artist and one of the most useful and visual books in this list. It’s one of the few books of this type that details and discusses the wrist, movement of each bone and muscles in excruciating detail.
Composition; a series of exercises in art structure for the use of students and teachers. by Arthur Wesley Dow This one may be self-explanatory by title, so I will emphasize that your drawing is only as good as it’s composition. Good composition can elevate stick figures, while bad composition can ruin what would otherwise be a technical masterpiece.
The American Drawing Book
The American drawing-book: A manual for the amateur, and basis of study for the professional artist. Especially adapted to the use of public and private schools, as well as home instruction by John Gadsby Chapman. Speaking of self-explanatory titles…
A Progressive Drawing Book For Beginners
A progressive drawing book for beginners by Philip Henry Delamotte. The first half of this book is text and the second half illustrations for careful study. Perhaps a good place to start if the other drawing books mentioned are overly advanced or technical for your taste.
The Essentials of Perspective
The essentials of perspective with illustrations drawn by the author; by L.W. Miller Perspective is a must no matter what you’re drawing.
“I CALL this little book ” The Essentials of Perspective,” because it seems to me that it has as much information about the science of which it treats as the artist or the draughtsman ever has occasion to make use of, except under the most unusual conditions. “
Book of a Hundred Hands
Another free drawing book is George B. Bridgman’s Book of a Hundred Hands which I recently reviewed. Bridgman writes: “It is the purpose of this work to present the hand not only to the eye but to the understanding.”
Human Anatomy for Art Students
Human anatomy for art students with drawings by Innes Fripp & an appendix on comparative anatomy by Harry Dixon. From the introduction: “The object of this book is to give the shortest description of human anatomy compatible with the interest of the artist and essential for his work, and to burden his mind as little as possible with names, with technicalities, and with those details which do not bear directly upon the surface forms.”
A Handbook of Illustration
A Handbook of Illustration by A. Horsley Hinton who writes “Every artist or draughtsman, be he beginner or expert, must draw for himself and according to his own feelings and promptings. In every department of art the successful have had their imitators, and these again their imitators, and at each successive stage the further one gets from originality, the more trammelled, the more impotent and hopelessly beyond the possibility of really great work.”
There are also several drawing books available as online only versions at Open Drawing Books.
Know of any other public domain artist resources? Let us know in the comments! I’d love to keep adding to the list.
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Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.